Emergency Preparedness, Safety, Security

UNC-Chapel Hill Students Evaluate Emergency Response to Campus Shooting

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has released a summary of findings from the campus feedback portal it created following a shooting incident that resulted in the death of a faculty member.

On Aug. 28, the campus went into full lockdown after a graduate student opened fire at the school and shot and killed a professor in his office. UNC-Chapel Hill launched the survey portal as a way to accurately and efficiently collect feedback from the Carolina community on its experiences during the incident. The school will now initiate a formal after-action review conducted by a third-party vendor to analyze the incident and the university’s response and to receive recommendations regarding future emergency response plans.

“It’s crucial that we get the viewpoint of the folks who are affected by it—the folks who we’re trying to reach with our emergency messaging, the folks who were in lockdown,” said George Battle, UNC-Chapel Hill’s vice chancellor for institutional integrity and risk management. “It’s just key to have that perspective.”


Students, faculty, staff, parents, and families were invited to provide feedback via the portal, which launched on Sept. 13 and remained open for 10 days. The university received 3,362 completed responses, with 36% coming from students, 27% from family members of students, 26% staff, 9% faculty, and 2% those who identified as “other.”

Half of the respondents reported being on campus during the incident, and the other half were either off campus and not local (35%) or off campus and local in Chapel Hill or Carrboro (15%).

Respondents were asked to answer an open-ended question focused on key takeaways from their experiences on Aug. 28 and also to rate the usefulness of various emergency communications tools. Some responses included impressions from a second campus lockdown on Sept. 13, which occurred within minutes of the feedback portal being sent to campus via email.

“I was pleased with the response rate and also the distribution of respondents, with more than a third being students,” said Darrell Jeter, the university’s director of emergency management and planning. “I think that speaks volumes as it relates to the students’ interest in what happened that day and also their interest in making sure that the university can learn from this moving forward.”

Key Takeaways

Many of the open-response answers focused on three themes: Alert Carolina emergency notification system updates, preparedness and training, and safety infrastructure. The most prevalent suggestions are listed as follows:

Alert Carolina Updates

  • Sending more frequent and detailed updates during the incident.
  • Updating the language used in the initial Alert Carolina message to be less vague.
  • Providing information to parents on how to get updates during the incident.
  • Sharing more information on the location of the incident and impact as it evolves.
  • Making sirens audible in classroom buildings.

Preparedness and Training

  • Requiring emergency protocol trainings and drills, especially for faculty and staff.
  • Confirming expectations for faculty about continuing instruction, both in person and online.

Safety Infrastructure

  • Ensuring all doors can be locked and/or windows be covered.
  • Creating building-specific plans and emergency protocols.
  • Assigning trained department contacts to coordinate during an incident.

Emergency Communications Feedback

Respondents were asked to rank how effective various emergency communications tools were in helping them make personal safety decisions during the incident. The initial Alert Carolina text notification and the Alert Carolina “all clear” notification received the highest ratings, with 82.8% and 85% of respondents finding them to be useful, respectively. Nearly three quarters (71.1%) of respondents called the initial email notification useful.

Opinions were split on the effectiveness of the Alert Carolina updates during the incident, with 50.4% of respondents calling them useful and 49.5% finding them to be not at all or slightly useful.

Compared with other safety tools, the outdoor sirens (52.9% usefulness rating) and the Alert Carolina website (40% usefulness rating) received lower marks.

Battle said learning from past incidents serves as the basis for emergency response planning.

“You can’t know what you don’t know,” he said. “So, when things actually happen, you see, ‘Okay, this went wrong, this went right, or this didn’t land the way we thought it would.’”

A summary of the results is posted on the university’s Institutional Integrity and Risk Management website, which will also share updates from the after-action review process moving forward.

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